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Oral-History:Robert Lawrence

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This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.  
 
This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.  
  
Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, Rutgers - the State University, 39 Union Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8538 USA. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.  
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Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program,  39 Union Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8538 USA. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.  
  
 
It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:  
 
It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:  
  
Robert Lawrence, an oral history conducted in 1994 by Andrew Goldstein, IEEE History Center, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.  
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Robert Lawrence, an oral history conducted in 1994 by Andrew Goldstein, IEEE History Center, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.  
  
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== Interview  ==
 
== Interview  ==

Revision as of 15:46, 19 May 2009

Contents

About Robert Lawrence

Robert Lawrence was a consulting applications engineer for Westinghouse who ultimately became head of Westinghouse's Electrical Utility Engineering Unit. He received a bachelor's degree from Pratt Institute, and specialized in electrical engineering. After his graduation, he went to work for Westinghouse, eventually interning in and then being placed with the Central Station Engineering unit in Pittsburgh, which specialized in applications engineering. He is best known for his development of a high voltage DC transmission system for residential areas, which, although it offered a cost-effective and technologically efficient approach to power transmission, failed due to marketing and economic issues.

The interview begins with a discussion of Lawrence's early interest in mathematics and science, continuing through his experiences at Pratt Institute and his experiences at Westinghouse, including his internship at Pittsburgh, his activities as a consultant in Westinghouse's Southwestern region and as head of the Electrical Utility Engineering Unit. Lawrence describes strategies he developed as a facilitator of customer/company relationships. Lawrence also describes his development of a high voltage DC transmission system for residential areas; he asserts that the failure of his system revealed to him the importance of market economics in the power industry, a lesson he used to Westinghouse's benefit throughout his career. Lawrence describes his management strategies and his dual role as engineer and manager as head of his engineering unit. The interview ends with Lawrence's discussion of the Waltz Mill cable testing facility.


About the Interview

ROBERT LAWRENCE: An Interview Conducted by Andrew Goldstein, Center for the History of Electrical Engineering, April 7, 1994

Interview #196 for the Center for the History of Electrical Engineering, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.

Copyright Statement

This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.

Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program,  39 Union Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8538 USA. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:

Robert Lawrence, an oral history conducted in 1994 by Andrew Goldstein, IEEE History Center, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.


Interview

Interview: Robert Lawrence
Interviewed by: Andrew Goldstein
Date: April 7, 1994
Place: Piscataway, NJ

Childhood and Education (Pratt)

Goldstein:

Okay. I'm sitting with Bob Lawrence here in Piscataway on April 7, 1994; thank you for taking the time to talk to me today, Dr. Lawrence.

Lawrence:

Bob!

Goldstein:

Bob. I want to start by getting some biographical information. Tell me about your childhood and your education, up to the point where you began as an engineer.

Lawrence:

We were just talking before you turned the machine on about the legacies of our life story for the Life Member's Committee. That's the very thing I was interested in, getting people to tell us why they wanted to be engineers. While doing this, I've thought back about why I wanted to be an engineer. To encapsulate it as best I can. I would refer to our life stories as those of Erector Set generation. I think I just liked the idea of building something. The Erector set was good to build something. And engineers like to build mechanical or electrical. I was inclined mechanically when I was a kid maybe ten or twelve years old. The Erector set had parts that I don't think they have today. I had an old Maytag washing machine motor that drove like it was a gasoline engine. It didn't work too well. I don't know how many times I took that apart and put it together trying to get it to work, and then trying to make it get a little go-cart to go. A friend of mine and I would build stuff together — boats, go-carts — and put the Maytag engine on them. He got into some electrical stuff too. I’ve actually heard from this friend since we left our hometown. We worked together, not in a competitive way; I think this is how associates can help you. I think I was encouraged by the people I associated with as a youngster.

Then I just somehow became very interested in mathematics and physics — not so much chemistry. The logic of mathematics appealed to me. Mathematics is just so logical. I don't think there's anything as logical as math. Maybe that isn't true anymore. It fits patterns, it's predictable, it's nice. People are predictable too, but not in the same way. Physics has a lot of the same kind of logic. When Bill Aspray interviewed George Wilcox who was later Executive Vice President of Westinghouse, he asked about his background. Wilcox said that he had trained people to be electrical engineers and mechanical engineers, and through this he just got training in Physics. I think physics was an extremely important subject — physics laws, that predictability is something that maybe fits an engineering personality. An engineering personality, I think, is one that can contend with people, but that likes to deal with the way non-people laws behave. In school, I was good at math and physics. You remember the things you were most interested in.

Goldstein:

Did either of your parents have a college education?

Lawrence:

No. In fact, I don't think my father got through high school because he had to go out and work to help support the family. He was an orphan. And my mother worked hard and she hadn't gotten through high school either, I guess. In those days you couldn't get a job when you came out of high school, even if your grades were good, because there were absolutely no jobs. You could offer to work in the bank or any place for free — in fact, I worked in the hospital as an observer in the X-ray department thinking that might get me had something that I would be interested in. I had heard that X-ray technician was a good field; I was just looking around for things to do and things to get interested in. You were lucky if they'd even let you in to observe. A bank wouldn't let you in to observe, because they'd be afraid you'd steal the money! But you couldn't find a job anywhere. I lived in a small town with thirty thousand people. There were thirty thousand people there twenty years before I was born. And it's still thirty thousand except for the government training facility, Fort Drum. Fort Drum helped to build the economy but there'd never been a great economy there. That town was supported by your New York Air Bay Company, and paper mills. That whole area up there is a very farm-oriented area — dairy farms — not too much industry. But the New York Air Bay Company was a great supporter to many people. I had a brother-in-law who was in teaching, who thought I should teach. He said I'd make a good teacher but I didn't really want to teach. I later did some teaching, but I really wanted to go into engineering.

Now this chap was a chemical engineer, but chemical  engineering seemed to be so ethereal, or non-concrete; you couldn't get your hands around it. I thought more about electrical or possibly mechanical engineering because they seemed to be more hands-on. Clarkson and Pratt Institute were two places nearby. Clarkson was in the North End, the north cold country up there in Watertown, New York. Pratt Institute was down in Brooklyn where you'd be a nobody in New York City — very impersonal. I wanted to have the more impersonal touch, and I wanted to get to the big city. Although getting to the big city was not that great. This fellow who studied chemistry at Pratt had given me some literature on it, and he told me about all the great curriculum] that Pratt had, very broad. At that time, Pratt gave you background in wood shop, metal working shop, the foundry, basic mathematics, chemistry, the whole broad program, including some English, grammar writing, financial training. So, I decided to go to Pratt. I decided to go into electrical engineering, even though it was less tangible than mechanical engineering. It was more of challenge; mysteriously, I liked chemical engineering later. I got a good education; it was hard work. I had to manage three jobs while I went there, because money, as I said, was very scarce then.

There was a Professor Carr at Pratt, and he really affected my life. He used to say, "You've got to understand the fundamentals." You have to go back to the fundamentals, go back to the sine wave. But that was good training. We had some very good instructors. I also worked in the labs there, so I got some feel for that. I had been near the top of my class in high school, and I’d felt that there was a real achievement. Then I got to college, and I found out how tough it was. There were guys from Brooklyn Tech who knew things — they had the first year of college already. I was really coming in right at the bottom of the scale, even though I'd been at the top of the class in Monadrock High School. There were thirty-five or forty in our class for engineering at Pratt. I wasn't the top, but I wasn't the bottom either, I did pretty well. Then I got out, I got into a job, and I said, “Geez, this is tough!” You look back at the end of your career at your work, and you say, “Well, I didn't get to the top, but I wasn't at the bottom.” It's interesting to see the stages that you go through. I don't know if kids go through that now or not. When you ask people today what they want to do, why did they become what they are, or how did they decide — today they have too many alternatives, I think it's almost tougher to decide. We were driven perhaps because we had a fewer number of alternatives. We had no money, so we had to make a decision fairly quickly. Did we choose or did someone choose for us? Who knows? When you look back, it's hard to tell. I don't know that I was smart enough to make that decision by myself. Certain things drove me forward, and I had to just keep moving forward. Later on you almost have to keep up with that philosophy. I think young people now have so many more alternatives to choose from. It's just a different world.

Goldstein:

Let me just ask what your hometown was.

Lawrence:

Watertown, New York, in upstate New York, north of Syracuse. A very small town.

Goldstein:

And you went to public high school there?

Lawrence:

No, I went to a private school. I went to Catholic schools all my life. I went to a private high school. We had some excellent teachers, and they were nuns. There was one, and man, she knew math and physics! You had to toe the line in math and English. My kids went to a school that the Brothers taught, and those brothers were tough. It wasn't so much a public/private school issue then, you went to the school closer to where you lived, and went according to what your religious background was. It is a much different situation today. But the quality of the education was good, and I enjoyed being in a small class.

Joining Westinghouse

Goldstein:

We were talking about the choice for power.

Lawrence:

I think I almost backed into my choice, because I didn't understand electronics and I hated it. I could never get anything working right on the tubes. And that's almost it! The big things we worked in were the things in the lab, but we didn't have electronic experiments in labs. I never felt comfortable. You’d like to work with something, which brings you positive reinforcement, which you do well at. Probably that's true if you're managing people: give them something they do well with, they'll do better. I felt that way with the experiments with power in the lab-motors, generators, thermodynamics. Thermodynamics and chemistry were vague to me, and I had trouble with them. But out of the things that we were working with, somehow, power just seemed to be good. So when I came out of school, that was where I went. I guess this is just the way the cards are dealt in life. A lot of things happened — you don't always decide yourself what to do. You react and you only think you know what you're doing.

We were the first of the graduating classes in 1943. That is, we were the first class to go through a complete year without any long vacations. The war had been on, since 1941. So there was a great need for engineers in the service. I enlisted in the Navy and was accepted upon graduation. But then before I graduated, I found out that I had been rejected for a medical problem. So I didn't get into the service. But at that time, companies would take almost any warm body, and I was just a warm body. I remember that GE and Westinghouse came and interviewed people. There was a lot of pressure from my family to get me back into GE because it was connected with near Watertown. Somehow the chemistry didn't work in the G.E. interview. There was a guy from Westinghouse though, who took a mild interest in several of us. And one who was particularly interested in me was located in the New York office. I’ll sign you up! So I signed on.

In the beginning, you don't always know what you're doing. The guy who hired me said, I was going to be an applications engineer. Well, an application engineer sounded pretty good from the way he described it, but when I spent my first four weeks in Westinghouse in the New York office, and talked to several people there and started to develop a feel for what this job was: I realized it was sales. Well, I didn't want to do this with my engineering talent, my engineering background — sales? When we were at war? As time progressed I concluded that they were just calling salesmen applications engineers, which was true, they were. But it took me a while to recognize that. And I didn't really want to be in sales anyhow! Now, later on, I probably did a lot of selling one way or another in my career, but back then I really didn't want to do that.

Westinghouse then had what they called the Student Corps. You could come in and get assignments, you'd go to a place for a month, they'd grade you, you'd grade them, and they'd decide whether they'd make you an offer. They were most interested in giving a person an assignment as quickly as possible, so that they could move on to the next person. The divisions because they were seeking people then, wanted to get someone employed quickly. I had assignments in Newark, in the Relay Division, which was highly technical. Power systems and power relaying lend themselves very well to analysis. Not tangible...

Goldstein:

It's mathematical.

Lawrence:

Mathematical. It isn't precise or exact, but it's not awfully vague — it's still something you could pretty well get your hands on. That was pretty interesting, but I wasn't really sure I wanted to be in that geographic area. And then I had an assignment out in the shop — that was just a terrible assignment, because there was nothing to do, but sit and watch somebody testing something. I was lucky they didn't electrocute me. I really was! Didn't know that much about electricity. I had a one month assignment in the New York office — the idea was to send me down to Pittsburgh for some training and then come back to them. I didn't know that at the time. Then I heard about a thing they called applications engineer — in that case, it really was engineering. Engineers who were district engineers in the field would go out and look at equipment.

Central Station Engineering & Calculation

Lawrence:

I had another assignment in what was then called central station engineering. If you've never heard of central station engineering I'd recommend what they call a transmission and distribution systems reference book, probably one of the greatest technical books of all time. There was a cadre of perhaps ten or twelve engineers who were the most outstanding people that I could ever have conceive of. And I still feel that today. Many of them have died, but one who is still living: Ed Harder, who had a son Charlie, who later worked for me. Then there was Gordon McKay and others. There is a whole list of people in this book. They later revised that book. I revised a chapter, and I wrote a power book myself, later. But this group of engineers was wonderful; they were great mentors —

Goldstein:

What was that?

Lawrence:

Sam Griscum . He's since dead. He was a wonderful person. Harold Vaughn, he was another one of the authors of this book. It was just one of those things; I knew this was it.

Goldstein:

This was in Pittsburgh?

Lawrence:

In Pittsburgh. These guys treated me well. They were gentlemen. The assignments they gave were things I could really sink my teeth into. I could sit down with a pencil, paper, slide rule, work on something, and really get an answer. It wasn't like working on a problem where the answer was in the back of the book: now I was beginning to learn that the answers weren't in the back of the book. One of the problems was finding the problem, another was knowing when you get the solution! I was beginning to realize that, but these people would take time to work with me one on one. I'd read the stuff they wrote and I'd get to talk to them — I said I have to get a job here.

Goldstein:

There was room for an intern to function in this environment?

Lawrence:

Just like an intern! Yes!

Goldstein:

I mean in this situation, if they had problems, they would make room for the intern to work? They wouldn't try to tackle them themselves?

Lawrence:

You mean these engineers? They would usually give me some segment of a problem that you could work on that would contribute to what they were doing. I didn't know it at the time, but my work would be a piece of the problem. They were working on the bigger part, usually, but somehow, they knew how to give me the piece of the problem, that was enough for me to work on. It's a hard thing to do, training people. I found that very difficult, later when I tried to train people to do something. I had to say, hey, there's a problem. You go work on it. You think about concepts and what there is conceptually. But no matter what it is, a job has got to be broken down into smaller pieces that people can handle, whether it's a computer or something else. When you build a house, you don't just say go build a house. You've got to do it piece by piece. Everything has to be done in small chunks. Small bites become part of the big deal. I think though that the general self-esteem that these guys had made me want to be part of them. I wanted to be like them. I wanted to be one of them, someday. They were a big group of mentors. They were guys who really paid attention to engineering. They didn't worry about the market and things like that.

Goldstein:

So to that group, the technical aspects of the problem were paramount, and the economics were for someone else to worry about. Did you have any economic criteria that you were responsible for?

Lawrence:

Yes. As that job developed the problem of economic criteria was very important. Lots of times, instead of designing something, you would estimate what something ought to be and then about how much this would cost. Basically, these were systems engineers. You had to fit everything together and see if it would work. Even though you didn't design the generator, you were applying the ideas and they had to work. So we were truly applications engineers. Somewhere along in there, we had a lot of discussions about whether I wanted to go out in the field. It was a question of where I would be trained in that group, or move over to a district engineering group — I would do some of the same things, but out in the field. A lot of that was about where the jobs were. The managers were kind of negotiating among themselves about who they wanted to keep on the rolls, and who they'd like to have here and there — just like I had to do later when I was selecting somebody for employment. But I didn't make it a definite case where I wanted to work in that activity, Central Station Engineering. I read their book — it's a brown book in its original edition — a lot of it went over my head, I didn't understand it. Some of it's still over my head, I still don’t understand! But it was a challenge, and it was manageable, although I got into a lot of problems that I couldn't handle, couldn't solve.

Now, like a lot of things, when you see the head of the department, the guy above him made the decisions, but that fellow was a very engineering-oriented guy. He had projected an image of technology, especially to young people. He was the one who decided whether you'd have a job or not. But Charlie Wagner was a very technical, capable guy — superior. Bob Evans was the same way. I remember one problem in particular I was assigned was to develop the equivalent circuit of a four winding transformer. Well, with the data you can get from the transformer designers, you can very easily develop duck soup.  Now I can understand how you'd develop the equivalent circuit, turned ration and some impedance or resistance — and magnetizing rates and all that kind of stuff for a two lane transformer. But then when you've got a three lane transformer, it was a little more difficult — it took three legs instead of just two — and then the question was of how to develop the four lane. Well, I worked on that problem, I can remember very distinctly — on Friday of that week after I worked on it, I was so frustrated. I talked to people — I talked to Bob Evans, I talked to Charlie Wagner — those were the days when if you had a problem you'd go talk it over with your boss, and you would work together to try to come up with a solution. You still do that, I think, but in a different way. Back then I think the guy would get right interested with you, and get into some detail, maybe get your garter up so you could get over a hump that would take you through.

It was that particular one with the four line meter of power winding equipment circuits that I was trying to develop. Probably the thing that saved me was that neither of those guys really knew the answer either. So I went back and struggled with it some more and finally my boss went out of town that week — these folks used to travel a lot — and he came back and he said, “Well, I guess I don't know how to do it either.” That made me feel a little bit comfortable — I had been assigned a completely impossible task. There is a solution to it, and eventually, I assumed they got one. I don’t remember exactly whether it was four or five or six winding, but the complexity does increase as you go up with more windings in a transformer developer code. It's not as easy as it might look as you go toward one step, the next step, the next step as complexity increases. But the problems most of the time were manageable. I look back on it now, and think about the calculations that we used to do by hand, or slide rule. Stuff we can do today with a machine or a hard calculator, we would spend weeks just grinding out numbers to do. Putting numbers in columns... building power systems. You’d need an AC network calculator to do that. But now this is done in a flash. It's amazing. But still, we developed a very good hands-on feel for what the problem was and what the solution might be when you get there. But you would run into things that you just couldn't solve because you just didn't have the power to do it.

Goldstein:

You knew what calculations needed to be executed and you just wanted —

Lawrence:

It would be so time-consuming, and so frustrating to do calculations and produce no results. You'd produce results, but they’d be negative — they wouldn't work. So you'd have to keep trying stuff over to get something that would work. And it's frustrating to do a hundred things to find one that works. Whereas if you can do it  by virtue of a machine or calculator —

Anyhow, I did get a permanent assignment there, and as time progressed, I started to gain experience. And I have to tell you, that I felt great frustration. Always new things were coming in. The quality of those people — to me they were just so superior. I wanted to be like them, but some of them were just absolutely geniuses, with great memory, analytical building; I always felt pretty modest and still do today. I just admire them so much.

But, nevertheless, I’d try to use my own capabilities. We used to get our problems from our electric utility customers; all the electric utilities around were dedicated to making electric power — generating it, transmitting it, and distributing it. All the problems that came up for them would come to our guys, and they'd go out and visit customers as consultants. They'd come back with these problems, solve them, go back out and talk to the customers about it.

Customer Relations & Anti-trust Law

Goldstein:

Were these customers of Westinghouse products? Or did they use Westinghouse as a consulting —

Lawrence:

They were using Westinghouse as a consultant, but in those days you were rewarded by equipment. Just like today you might go to a broker, and he might say, I'll send you some stock and it's going to be a front load of five percent for a consultant, or he'll say I'll do a problem for you and it'll be $100 an hour for x number of days. Or an insurance guy might sell you some insurance now and not charge you for selling the insurance or a broker might sell you something and get paid for selling it. The fee is not up front or outstanding. In those days, the equipment that Westinghouse built and sold made for a very good relationship between the manufacturer and the utility.

Goldstein:

So you're saying that it paid for Westinghouse to act as a consultant because then they could make big sales that way.

Lawrence:

We would learn to be objective. We would — the kind of guys that we had there were just as well — We knew what our interests were and we knew where our paycheck was coming from, but we wouldn't tell a guy the wrong thing to do just to sell him a piece of equipment. We had integrity. The payback was not direct. You had this overall — and of course later on this all changed because of a number of factors in business and things that happened. We can go into it if you want to.

Goldstein:

Yes, that would be interesting.

Lawrence:

Well, since we're on it, what in particular happened is that in some point in time there, and I don't remember the exact period, we could look it up or identify it, probably about the fifties, whenever the anti-trust suits came forward, I don't know whether you're familiar with that at all or not. Some of the manufacturers were accused of price fixing, and so of the electric utilities, while there had been good relationships among the electric utility executives and the engineers of the manufacturers —

Goldstein:

Good relationships between the utilities and the suppliers —

Lawrence:

Yes. Right, and good personal relationships, which is often, you know, not unimportant — but there were good business, good personal human relationships — and good communications both ways, good rapport. But when this anti-trust thing broke and came to light, and then legal people got into it, and eventually of course it became a case of making [things] simple. The rate paying factor became important. In other words, the utilities were controlled in this way, and still are for the most part. Their rates are set by a Public Utility Commission or some government body. So those people said, well, if you've been damaged because of work with suppliers, agreed-to prices which caused you to buy more expensive machines, you have to recover those losses. So anybody who was a Chief Executive of the Utility Company is going to defend himself against that. So personal relationships got severely damaged. And you had the lawyers who would come in, lawyers with claims against the suppliers. So now, you know that relationship — "Well, we'll do something for you," — just started to soften, because your reward of getting business was less, more competitive in a way, but the reward was not the same.

So gradually it started to change over to, "Well, we won't just do this service for you and hope to get a job, we're going to start charging you a little bit for it." And then it became more and more so that the manufacturer/suppliers ostensibly became just like consultants, but on a very — not so much putting the Part A and Part B together in a power system, but doing sophisticated studies of the power engine, using computers — computers were starting to go in now, and we were starting to charge for them and this was kind of independent — trying to form our Westinghouse work consulting to "we'll just look at it for you and give you an answer, and then the answer is yours, you can do what you want with it. You can buy whatever you want."

So that now you have very little of that in the relationship — I'm not sure it even exists hardly at all. Today you still find the guy, a broker who'll probably sell you something other than front loading on something, but that kind of an economic situation really developed more as a specific reward for whatever it is that was being done. That was a major change. Nevertheless, we went on until my operation folded, when I retired, we went on still trying to maintain a small group that took independent views of how our equipment should be applied, what equipment we should need. Because it was still some value in  just to know what the problems were, so we could come back to our divisions and say what should you do, what shouldn't you do. Because a guy can build a transformer but it has to fit into the system. And while he might know a lot about that, he would still like to know how we would look at it from the overall viewpoint.

Goldstein:

So what you're saying is that you would take your experiences out in the field working with utilities and return to your development people and tell them what sort of equipment was necessary —

Lawrence:

What kind of characteristics they should have. But then, again, as time went on, that's something that you couldn't pay for, you know, just to pick an easy number, the Operation I headed cost a million dollars a year and that was a million dollars that you had to sell, another ten or twenty million dollars' worth to pay for it. So no matter how valuable it was, we could pay for it. Not selling it directly — there was a group selling directly, but we're not, we're in there trying to find out what it is you want so I can go back and tell. At some point you say well, I have to either listen to what they tell me I should build, because I'm now the guy building it — I don't have anybody to look to — and that's kind of the way it is more now.

Standardization and Industry Change

Goldstein:

I wonder if a company like Westinghouse cuts out that position and loses its ear to the ground — does it become less foresightful about what the utilities might need? Does it become more reactive I'm saying?

Lawrence:

Well, I think, you know, I'd like to tell you that that's true, it becomes less responsive and less reactive, but I'm afraid that would almost be taking the position that I took at one time, which was valid then, that we will lose. But see there is some point where a product becomes pretty well standardized. And you don't need anybody to really tell you — Let me give you an example. Here's a simple calculator. Now, when that first came out — I don't know when it was — it's pretty simple. Even by today's standards. When it first came out it was pretty good. You could say, I need something that — I'll look around and see what people want, need something that can add, subtract, multiplies, puts memos in, telephone numbers — and so forth, I'll make it and I'll sell it. Now I could have hired you and said go tell me what it is I need like this. But if the product has been on the market a long time and once you've got this settled I don't need you anymore. Now maybe I need you if I have a very complex machine, and I at first don't know what it is that you really want and what you really need, then I'd need you. But once I get a lot of these going, I like what people are doing, and I can see pretty well that people are buying these, I don't need you to survive. So there's some point where it just doesn't pay to do that.

Goldstein:

I figured you were saying conceptually, but that implies that utilities had stabilized technologically and I wondered if that's true. You know, applications had computers or electronics —

Lawrence:

Well, I think that what has happened in the power industry today since I left it, in 1985 I retired, is that it has lost a lot of that technical capability. It's been influenced — it's lost a lot of people, and a lot of people who don't know some of the things they need to know, and the manufacturers have got to really just listen as best they can, I think: they don't get too much insight from these study groups they have, they don't really listen to them very much. SO there's a little bit of a gap. But the power companies themselves have matured to some extent, now I don't know really how to answer that, but in my view they are certainly a lot more advanced than they were fifty years ago. There's less newness — it's hard to find new things in the power industry — But another thing is there are so many political and sociological influences in the electric utility and power industry today. Now those things sometimes create problems that they have to solve, and that costs. And so they just react to it and have to do it. And that's a very complex problem, because I don't know how, for example, I don't know any utilities executive who would go out to the power plant, especially a nuclear power plant.

Goldstein:

Nobody is!

Lawrence:

It's crazy! The need for it is questionable but even if there becomes a need with all the problems you face why even do it? Code generation and all these things, political and governmental legislative influences... Now there have been a lot of technological developments in Control and Relaying and stuff like that, but it is getting more mature, and I think it's hard to find new things — EPRI for example I think claims that it's harder to do new things individually. Another example, for example, is that one utility can support another when you've got a storm, you can do that — that's not technical, that's managing your resources. Well, maybe new technology will help you manage your resources better, but you're really just taking x people from here and putting...

Goldstein:

Whereas once, when you began, if a utility wanted to build a plant and establish a distribution system, it required special case engineering to get that done, and now it's more off the shelf?

Lawrence:

Yes, there's a lot of that, I think, there's a lot more off the shelf, and for example I would say that I'm building a generating plant, and transmission line — there aren't very many new transmission lines being built. There's not much new generation being built! Some cogenerations being built, and they can use old technology there, it's a matter of the resources or not being brought to bear, because that's not their main business — that's another change in philosophy! But there are new technical tools, new developments — new specific developments just inherently — even since I retired. There's no major thing, there's no big step like a change of transmissions or voltage level or something phenomenal like superconducting — those things are known but they're very far off, economics is what throws them out, for the most part.

Lawrence:

High voltage DC transmission, this is a whole thing we could spend an hour and a half on.

Field Consulting

Goldstein:

I just want to be sure I understand the high voltage DC transmission is — what you do is share power over DC?

Lawrence:

Oh, yes, right, instead of using AC transmission to share power you use DC — see, that's a whole separate subject to treat that. We used to feel — I used to feel the technology of distribution was much more mature than say, transmission or generation. And maybe mature isn't quite the right word — maybe there wasn't as much individual engineering, with engineers with certain standard things to do in distribution. The things that — transmission was more specialized, you build a line from here to there and you have to make the right of way, and make the line, and work the right voltage, need a new generating plant, you have a lot of things for the generating plant, the technology was considerably more I think in building a plant than two miles of line — Once you know what the line was, you constructed it A couple of places here I think I want to tell you something I think follows your outline. After about three or four years, they were very much in need for more of our kinds of consultants who went out in the field, from Headquarters operations to do the kinds of things we were talking about —

Goldstein:

This would be the late forties?

Lawrence:

Yes... Forty three toward around 1950, I guess. Around '50, because I'd been working since around — around '47 or '48 I wrote my first technical papers — there's a good thing to mention, too — how IEEE fits in. We had a technical policy from our fellow up in Monteague, he says first you do something, you do it well, and then you publicize it. IEEE was very important — it was AIEE then. That was as important as it was to do it and to do it right, without revealing big secrets. We were smart enough not to do that. But I know one of the first things that I got involved in was helping to write a technical paper with a bunch of these super guys, and it turned out to be a prize paper! This group would do things to publish not just academics, although it's kind of on the academic side, but you know you were publishing things that people wanted to learn, and the IEEE was an extremely important way to do that.

Now today that field's all changed, because there are fewer in the power field, they're all outside the United States trying to get into that! And we could dwell on that. But I can remember that writing a paper, or writing an article was very important, and we used to encourage that. They encouraged that. And we wanted to do it mainly because they encouraged it. It helped you personally in your resume and whatever good PR for you, and it was almost status-wise, too! But about that time I started to say in 1950, and this is important there too in relating to status, I was assigned at what they call the Southwestern region to go consult in the utilities anywhere from Arkansas, Tennessee, Texas, New Mexico, part of Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, that was the southwestern region. So here I was literally a kid, who when I wore a bow tie they'd literally bawl me out because I'd look too young — I wish that was true now — trying to make the way to be a consultant, powerful guys in the utilities there — I used to say playing doctors, talking to doctors, not like doctors talking to patients — when you went to visit these guys they knew as much or more than you did — stability. So there was a cart full of challenges, how to make a name for yourself, that's what you were trying to do! You were also trying to do your job for the company, but there was a lot of self-interest here, in making a name for yourself.

So writing these papers and giving talks out there to people was very important in PR and saying the right thing — you couldn't just go talk! You understand what I'm saying about that! But that was one of those things that I was just fortunate to be called that young  to go as a consultant because I mean, I'm not kidding, people would look at you and almost kick you out because I looked young. But you know gradually you start building some confidence: I used to say — there are several things I would say. The first is, the first thing you do is you walk into a place, the guy says, well, what's new in the utility business? And then you'd tell him, and he'd say, we can't do that, it's never been done before because they're very conservative people. And then there was another one... let's see... oh, yes, it was that when I first started out, I'd say, I was scared to tell somebody something for fear that they wouldn't believe me! But then as I developed experience and guided them in something to do, I was afraid they would!

Goldstein:

So —

Lawrence:

The thing I wanted to leave with you is there was a great opportunity — I mean, that was an opportunity — how I would find it today if I were starting over — to go out and talk to all these people, you learned a lot! You know, sometimes you would let people talk, and they'd come to the solution of a problem themselves, and you didn't have to say a thing! You just listened to them! Sometimes this was true! So then these are renowned people. Then you get the opportunity to write a technical paper with them, or do some work with them, and so these were great opportunities.

Goldstein:

Can you recall some of the situations that you consulted on?

Lawrence:

Well, one that I think is — well, first of all, I developed two things as a strategy with the helpfulness and guidance of two people. One of them — they're both dead — one of them Monsef, of the little book Monsef and Robinson on Relaying — he said, pick a subject where you know something about it, and don't get into something where you're trying to compete with everybody else. Makes sense, doesn't it. And then John Parsons, he was kind of a mentor, and he was an expert in the field of distribution and I kind of got interested in that. And I kind of figured that a lot of people don't want to mess around with the distribution leg of power; they just want to work with generation and transmission. That's glamorous, and it was and still is. And I thought, well, I'll pick the one that's less glamorous and I'll try to become an expert in that. Of course, in the process, we still work GTD, all three, because we weren't supposed to be a specialist in any one — but to cite an example, and along the same lines of strategy, the one thing that you didn't want to do, you didn't want to go to St. Louis and try to tell the experts in Union Electric Company how to run their business or how to design their system — or how to do their relaying — they had relaying experts who knew more than I did.

Then again, why try to compete? They had system planning people who knew more than I did, and if you'd go talk to them, they'd ask you questions where you would just buffalo. But then on the other hand, you'd go to a smaller utility, and for instance this particular case, in San Antonio, Board of Public Services, our district engineer and the salesman there figured here was a way to utilize, to get some business, was to have this guy come in and talk to them. Well, this guy that I knew seemed to get along pretty well and he wanted to do an AC Board study, you didn't have what was the [inaudible] then, and he used enamel on it to put the bolts and amps on a calculating board, and it would represent in a static way — it had nothing to do with dynamics or electric power system — it had to do with transit wires, but — to tell you what power would flow where, and they used to do power stability studies. So he was going to Chicago on the network calculating Board that they had up at — they used to have it at Texas A&M but they didn't have one there then, they used to have one up at Chicago and I can't remember what it was — but anyhow, I was assigned to go up there and work with them, their Chief Engineer and his Assistant, for a whole week! So I just sat and worked right with them, and I got to know their system very well — find their problems, what they were trying to solve, and make some recommendations — you got to know enough about it that they felt you were part of the solution and not just a part of the problem! So in that way you would learn and develop some expertise that maybe you could use on a more complicated system later. The problem essentially was the bigger the power system the more power for people they had and they could pay you, and more of them.

Goldstein:

Are the problems especially esoteric or technical — I still don't have a sense —

Lawrence:

Well, a typical problem might be at the time if you were going to put a new power plant in, where should you locate it? In one place or another, and if you do, how do you transmit the power, how is the load going to flow, where is the load going to be, in the years to come —

Goldstein:

And at what node to you enter the grid —

Lawrence:

That's right. Where will the power flow — you started up at the peak and lipo condition and where will it be x years from now when you make certain assumptions? That would be a problem. Another would be, assuming that you kind of decided where you were going to do this, you say, well, now, will this system be stable, will it stay together and keep on operating when I have a short circuit at some location, and then how do I apply the circuit breaker? And the relaying for this location of the short circuit? And what kinds of short circuit do I need to consider? What are the overbulges when it surges? All those kinds of things we'd get to look into it. There was a whole slew of those kinds of things that would develop with experience.

GT&D Strategies

Lawrence:

Now, let me leave it there for a moment, because I wanted to go on to the strategy, what my personal strategy was, for learning more about distribution, and while I worked on GT&D and did some of the things like I told you there in that company, I started to concentrate more on distribution and wanted to get more information from the guy that I knew was an expert in it, and there were a couple of them — John Parsons, and Barnett — and there was some unusual relaying in the network relays — the low voltage network system was one where it's an automatic system when power comes in, and the load flows according to the wave demanded. They were very reliable systems used in New York City and later in other cities all over the country, as a way to maintain reliable service in heavily concentrated power areas.

So later they used the board to design systems, and I helped design the [?] of America, and one for Corpus Christi, Texas when they first put it in, I helped design that one — we actually made the layout concerning what cable size there should be, and where the transformers should be, the protectors, the relays — I was developing more and more expertise — you wanted to create a demand for yourself. So I became an expert — to be known as an expert, I think known for my specialty. So then through a series of changes — John Parsons died — and there were changes in our little internal organization — I was put in charge of the Distribution section — a few engineers worked for me — and so one of the assignments there that I had for my management was, you know, distribution is something where it's very important to our company to make money, and we don't seem to have much reputation in it, it seems to be this glamorous G&T, and when you think about a power system it came into tension — you have to develop something big and new.

Failure of Residential Area Distribution

Lawrence:

So one man I mentioned, Sam Griskin, I had worked with him on Consolidated Edison — Consolidated Edison in New York, as far as distribution is concerned, the downtown area — if there is — a problem is like a big hospital. If anybody ever had a bad problem with the body, the hospital had it. ConEd in New York had that problem. So you know, if you wanted to find new problems, you'd go to them. So they had their chief engineer — said, I want to take a look, and he told this to Sam Griskin, I want you to take a look at a whole new fresh approach to distributing power, to make it more economical, because at that time we used to pretty much distribute at a 122 volts three phase system, from some high voltage, maybe 15KV. And they had a few little spots where they'd use 480 volts, 277 forty volts —

Goldstein:

Let me just check the numbers — you said 220, and then you said 208?

Lawrence:

Well, the three phase system for supplying three phase power is 120 volts; there's three wires and each of those wire is 120 volts. But then the wire to wire is 208 volts. The square root of three times 120. It's basically two systems single phase, where you have — outside — a ground wire here and then an outside wire, and this is common, 240 volts here to here, and then 120. I'm not going to get too complicated. But anyhow, on that three phase their loads were getting much bigger, they had electrical loads — you know, these big buildings and looking forward to the World Trade Center and the Empire State Building — so we got into that and he did a lot of the work — I was involved with it and later wrote papers with him and helped present them — where we developed higher voltage, 277 four eighty, which is three phase — that's just 277 times the square root of three 480 — and you get into the standards too, we got into the standards, but developed a spot network distribution. It was really the whole theory  to cover an area instead of just — to cover the area by the spots where the load was highly concentrated — and to develop out from there. So it became sort of a new concept, and it's a little subtle, really, until you know the details, but there were economics. Plus you can go from higher voltage — instead of 15 KV you can go maybe as high as 69 KV of transformers on down, so that you look not just from where the user was but you kept looking back, following the system to see what was the most economic combination.

So we later used that same philosophy in other studies that we did, in a residential area. Now, if I became famous, how I became famous was in looking at that for residential areas, because that concept was used in industrial and used in residential  — it was just an adoption, an adaptation of what was used in foreign countries, because they use what they call area distribution instead of single phase radial distribution. The problem with it is that this is sort of like making dog food that dogs don't want to eat. It's a good technical answer — and I'm being very honest and very frank about it, and at the time I was leery of it — but we did make a good case for economics of it, but the problem was that you couldn't really match the voltage of the appliances; you had to change it. In foreign countries they used higher voltage — four forty volts — or two 77 four eighty, two 65 watt sixty — they used that three phase in the homes, and they have two hundred volt light bulbs, two hundred volt appliances. We don't, for the most part, so it was incompatible. Basically, what we were trying to do is to convince the people in the United States that they ought to do something like what the Europeans and the other countries do. If we'd started it that way it would've been fine, but you could not — it would not and did not succeed because you could not change the market or the people — what drove it would not drive it.

Goldstein:

But Westinghouse had some clout. They make products, and so —

Lawrence:

Not enough. GE was much smarter than us, the only thing that that got was it made me famous, because Dave Blake of GE, who was a renowned distribution engineer, he and I would literally put on a show of the pros and cons of these two different kinds of distributions. People would actually call us in — it got to be funny, when I look back it's funny because people would go and hear us each argue our side, and at times I have to tell you, I look back, I didn't always have my heart in it, because I really knew a lot of the things he was saying was right, and yet, whether you're technically right or marketing right, well, I guess, probably sometime along then I really began to realize how important marketing and how important markets are. It's something that drives them to need to know why. And the guy who wanted to do it was just an excellent engineer, Sam Griskin, and he was right, but it's like I said, the dog wouldn't eat the dog food. So, there's a section written up in the book about it, and I said well let's see x years from now how it'll be, but I knew it would not fly.

Goldstein:

So did you get to install it anywhere?

Lawrence:

Well, we did commercially — it was successful commercially. We did have one installation residentially, as an experiment, and later it folded.

Goldstein:

And do you know where?

Lawrence:

Oh, it was in Baltimore. It was a huge development — a developer trying to do something, but they installed I think one house that way experiment filing member of the bank called and said tear it down and start over. Killed me to tell him that, but it just was not — it's almost like trying to change from electric to a non-electric system. Economics were important and they were there, but to whom? If you were [word ?], you would say this is the way it should be and I'll tell you what kind of transformer and what kind of appliances you should have, fine, but you don't do that. Besides, people move around, you know — SO every now and then, we made a very thorough study of it and it had technical value, but every now and then somebody came up when I was working and I would say, don't ask me about it, I don't want anything to do with it, it'll never run —

Goldstein:

So, I just want to make sure I understand — Your system allows for more efficient distribution, there's less power loss —

Lawrence:

It's cost. Well, a little efficiency, yes, it's just a matter of the total cost of distributing power. It would be appreciably less if you would distribute over an area instead of up and down the street by a small transformer.

Goldstein:

So there is one central step-down transformer, and everybody’s house is attached to that one, right?

Lawrence:

Instead of having anywhere — as few as four houses to twelve houses to one transformer, that’d be one hundred, okay? And they do do this in Europe, and that’s fine, because they started that way. You can’t mix them.

Goldstein:

And did you devote any time to — I guess it may be technical — I don’t see why it couldn’t operate at conventional voltages —

Lawrence:

Well, see, for lighting and small appliances you had to have another step-down transformer. That ate up a lot of the value. It called for double transformation. Let’s take a little break here —

Goldstein:

Sure. [Break in tape]

Lawrence:

Economics in the utility industry is very important, but I think economics in any engineering is very important — To move along here a little bit, I was telling you strategy- I think I did develop quite a name because — well, they were intellectually honest arguments at the time, and we did have influence of our technical man Monteif  and our division made appliances. But you know it was — looking back it was not a good decision from a marketing point of view for a company. Maybe I personally got a name out of it because people could enjoy the arguments, but a lot of them maybe quite honestly thought this was just a good show of foolishness, because they didn’t believe it could be done, and it clearly was an option.

Goldstein:

How much energy did you and Westinghouse devote to this?

Lawrence:

Good people tried to maintain that tradition. The people that were there bring more people in just like it. And a lot of good people — Chuck Wagner, and Hank La Page  and up until today — Bob Halman  — these are mainly a lot of people who have come along just almost in the footsteps of these — I’ll call them giants of the time. And so we used to get very good people; a lot of people had that very same attitude I did, I want to work there! A lot of people just loved to be working in our (it later became called) Electric Utility Engineering, in a chain of other names. But along about that time, when I was not a manager but I was appointed what they called a sort of Lead Engineer, for distribution, because I guess I’d taken an interest in that. There were a lot of things that we were still studying — and training people — Frank Young — I don’t know if you know Frank Young — he was training people. I was one person who helped train — But I guess the question, if I look at it and talk about it now, is — and a logical question you could ask — is, I ended up as a manager. And you might ask the question, why did you decide you wanted to be a manager instead of an engineer. Well, I don’t think that’s the right question, because I don’t think I did become a manager instead of an engineer.

Management Issues

Lawrence:

I wasn’t an Executive like Fred Wilcox or Gates at Microsoft. I don’t know exactly how to answer that question, but I think it’s important to address it. For one, I’ve had some training programs that pointed out that if you could do things, if you could conceive of ideas, then you could get people to go along those lines, working to their satisfaction by accomplishing things that you’d conceived, or that others’d conceived, you can multiply your own efforts: you could do more by directing others than you could do just by doing it yourself. And I’ll tell you, I think also honestly felt that there were many times when the people whom I directed, I could conceive of and point in the right direction but I couldn’t do as good a job of engineering as they could! Maybe by the same token they might not necessarily all, but some might have felt they couldn’t manage it as well. They couldn’t be managers — I think you have more than just direction. You can’t just say “Thou shalt do this” and they’ll do it. You have a power and design, you have to let people do something on their own. And so this skill of getting — however you do it, when you say go get it done — or create an opportunity for people — there are management skills that accomplish more than if you — There are different management skills, some of which will accomplish more than others. Driving doesn’t generally accomplish as much as something when people are led to do things from their own interests, pointed in that direction. I think I felt that way, and I think also there seemed to be a more lucrative financial picture in management. I’ll be honest, that tempted me too. Which probably is true!

Goldstein:

Did you do anything specifically to enhance these management skills that you’re talking about? Anything to help make something —

Lawrence:

Well, I’m not sure that I did, except that if I did them I think it was trying to respond to some of the things that they would teach at the courses that they sent me to. So, perhaps the opportunity more allies with what somebody saw — whatever reason to go take those courses! And then if I was probably to use some of them — I think today that a lot of those techniques are not as good, maybe not good at all.

Goldstein:

That’s what I mean, actually, taking courses?

Lawrence:

I didn’t take any outside courses — I did seek guidance, as to what were the best ways to lead people. Other factors started to come in here, though, too. That is, seeing the symptom and the syndrome that there’s no point in making the dog food if the dogs won’t eat it. This is important. And that kind of became a dominant thing with me. Maybe I intuited that, I don’t know. I never went to work on a problem unless I thought it was going to succeed. I didn’t want to work on this for the sake of the fun of it. So I could jump ahead and make an assessment and see how the chances would be. I picked more winners than losers. I wish I could do that with the stock market!, but that’s not my forte I’ll tell you that right now! Anyhow, those factors plus the people you worked for — again, hands are dealt with that — I didn’t control all my own destiny. I did, though, I did like the idea of being a leader and trying to direct people, and there are a number of things, I think, early on maybe, later on — we did have some ideas and people carried them out... I feel badly now sometimes though — I think some people think that they did all the work and they didn’t get the credit, but we always put their names on papers, but maybe mine shouldn’t have been on some of them, I’ve authored some seventy-five, eighty papers — but I think in all fairness, I look back at some of the papers that I’ve produced, out of those, we would set the direction.

High Voltage Transmission

Lawrence:

Things had developed, people had developed and they didn’t get the credit and did the work: but we did set a direction, and I think that is an achievement. When you say, that’s the direction that you want to go, and you see somebody get there to distinguish themself, and you set it. And I think we developed a lot of things — among the guys that worked for me developed things — that set directions for what were windows of opportunity that we ought to pursue and ones that we should not. And the ones that you should not produce are just as important in my view, because from a supplier viewpoint, they saved us from developing the wrong thing. One good example of it was when I got into the field of transmission, the arguments, pros and con, of 1100 power KV transmission, and this was just things being concerned about the environment — coronaloss, radio interference, and how it looked, besides the line —

Goldstein:

When was that?

Lawrence:

No, this was probably in the seventies... The glory of building something big, twelve hundred KV, it was just enormous… some great wonderful stuff, and the problems you can solve with it, it’s true! But by then, five hundred KV had taken its place; it was pretty well in: seven sixty-five they were starting to see problems with these, [wires picking out the right of way?] all those things — so now you’re seeing, here’s a thing we really shouldn’t spend money on developing, because it cost a lot of the money — put in simple terms, what market would there be for it? So, I conceived of a study which we carried out and did it, and we just assumed that something would be available, and said, tell us what — division — tell us about what it would cost, transformers and circuit breakers. And I want to tell you about how many there are that are going to be around the country, the way the growth pattern will be, I’m not going to worry too much about the technical, I’m just saying we can accomplish the technical. We could if we had to. And I’m not going to worry about whether it’s accepted or not. I have serious doubts about whether it will. So we did that, and you know we took a stand, and later did the same thing with DC transmission, but from a business viewpoint, we could not get the payback. There would not be enough equipment bought, ever, even though we talked about doubling the load every ten years, or every seven years, there would not be enough to pay back for the development.

Goldstein:

Now was this only internal, or would you sometimes get utilities cooperating —

Lawrence:

No, no we used to have seminars that went on. That was another thing that one of the groups did, was to bring a utility course, a very concentrated set of lectures that would last two weeks — it would be the budding executive or the executives would lead the way, people who had been good engineers or are good engineers, and we’d go home to our different plants and get feedback from them, conversations and meetings. So we’d present these ideas to them and we’d also write papers and get feedback. So you see there we used the IEEE meetings or the IEEE vehicle to get feedback on what was important. Now that was not very technical, but it was very important, because if you assumed certain things could be, and they could, nothing couldn’t be accomplished. We could accomplish all that today, but people wouldn’t accept it, and you know all that this has all turned out to be true. You could say, well, it’s a self-fulfilling prophesy, but that’s not necessarily true, because some of the arguments were legitimate. For example, how do you overcome somebody just not liking to look at something. He says, I will never have that. And that has been very important. Excuse the interruption.

Goldstein:

Well, I was going to ask whether the impulse to develop the higher impulse transmission, 1100 KV, whether that originated in Westinghouse or whether the utilities wanted the higher voltage, and then Westinghouse told them forget it, we’re not going to —

Lawrence:

Well, that’s a delicate problem, because you don’t really want to go to a utility who is buying stuff and say, hey, we’re not going to make this when he says he wants it. The question is how many wanted it. And here again, there were people in industry who were producing them themselves, and one was AEP, and he was a very astute engineer and economist — I can’t remember his name, but he proceeded a fellow named Donald Cooke.  And Donald Cooke liked the idea of what the called the economist scale. Because they’d gone from 500 to 765 and said, when you produce this it will be what people really need. So he was trying to talk us into 1200. Well, it’s kind of hard to talk a guy out of something he really wants, and yet we had to make that evaluation and face up to whether we would produce the equipment, because we make a little arrestor here, a piece of insulator there, and all that stuff is done to get a test basis, and those were how we responded.

Again, it could go on for a long time but I’m giving the overall picture. Waltz Mill built produce the feasibility to do it, how much do you have to extrapolate? So that was the response. In fact, AEP was part of that Waltz Mill test site. And those were important steps: I don’t mean to minimize them. But how you would interpret it was as important as how you would — because some people, because it was an IH — invented here — if you had responded and carried it out, you might have lost your buck! In fact, the cable industry built cable test centers, and they spent I don’t know how many millions of dollars, to produce and test 500 KV cable and I don’t think to this day there is a 500 KV cable installation. And the cable industry has gone and had to deal with that. So they get a long track. So it was very important — and I can remember providing information to one of our executives at the time. He said, should we build a full sized test? And I said no. Now that’s hard, because you had many people who were pulling at you at both as your own executives in the company and the customer, saying we ought to do this, we ought to go ahead. Stick your neck out, and build this. And they had a lot of clout! And to persuade them that they shouldn’t when that’s what they wanted to do, is a little risky. I claimed, and I saved more money for Westinghouse than you can possibly imagine by keeping out of certain businesses.

Goldstein:

It’s tricky —

Lawrence:

Well I think this is—I don’t know how this is going to be written up this way, but I guess it’s all right, I haven’t said anything that’s confidential, but these to me are insights that, in my history and time, and my experience, I think it is easier to say, yeah, well do it. I know because I did some of those! I did one that I don’t want to talk about — we found a way to apply something that they wanted to apply and it was terrible — it was a dog!! So I don’t want to talk about it [laughs].

Goldstein:

You were saying that some innovations may not pan out because they won’t get accepted broadly. However, if one utility, say, installed the higher transmission voltage and realized a great savings because they were using the more efficient system, might that have exerted economic pressure on the others and then everybody would follow suit?

Lawrence:

That’s what you would think. That’s one of the things you had to watch, because that’s what would not happen. 765 KV was developed and installed by AEP, and it’s almost an orphan. And one of the reasons I think is they wanted to do the higher voltage to jump over that and continue that, and support what they were doing. But for a lot of reasons, not just what I’ve listed here.

Goldstein:

Tell me when all this happened — in the mid-seventies?

Lawrence:

Well, that was the seventies and the eighties, I guess it was probably resolved that we really wouldn’t do much about 1200 KV until around 1980 — maybe it was later than 1980... It became more good stuff to talk about than it was a practical reality.

Goldstein:

Was there pressure on you to justify your decision to your superiors?

Lawrence:

Oh yes! In fact, there were many discussions — one time I have talked about was this one guy who was responsible for the transformer divisions, and he said — I think he understood enough about the study we synthesized that he said, do something like that — tell me where I should build that full scale transformer, and I said, no, the market isn’t there, and he said then we won’t do it. SO somehow I had built up enough confidence, I guess; that’s my view. I don’t know what he’d say. He didn’t do it, and several other people took the same attitude. I got into a lot of that kind of thing in my work and some of the economic evaluations, with the technical evaluations too, which were a good ways to go from a supplier viewpoint. That became the thing that I was really to enjoy. I don’t know how technical you call that — is that a marketing job or a technical job? I guess you’d have to know enough about the technology to know whether it’s marketable. You can’t just... today I guess we face a different kind of issue now — what’s the information highway. I think there are some very smart people working on that. I could ask the same questions about it, but I don’t know much about it. That’s how I feel. But it was important in my development and in the direction our engineers took — the ones I led — some of our divisions people, how we spent money, how customers reacted to it, what the industry could do — And I think we had an effect.

Goldstein:

When you were talking you mentioned something that was unfamiliar to me. You said Wats Mill?

Lawrence:

Waltz Mill.

Goldstein:

Tell me what that is?

Lawrence:

Well, that was originally a facility built to test cable — 345 and 500 AA KV cable — and then they expanded that facility to test this outdoor equipment — transformers and surge arrestors, not circuit breakers — you can extrapolate those designs. Very expensive — a full scale test was impossible at the time — circuit breakers, but you could test the transformers — and get a feel for it, like insulation requirements for it, insulation level — so it was mostly disconnect switches, surge arrestors, transformers themselves — low power value.

Goldstein:

When was that? And where?

Lawrence:

Well, that was at Waltz Mill, Pennsylvania near Pittsburgh, and it was built by Westinghouse in cooperation with American Electric Power, and the Electric Power Research Institute.